Stop judging women’s life choices. There are infinite ways of being amazing.
Once there was this Brazilian woman. For this story’s purpose, we will call her Camila. Camila worked for Brazil’s government, in a high-end position, and she seemed to be doing very well.
As a reporter, I have never met Camila in person, nor interviewed her. I often saw her speaking on TV, though, and in pictures, mostly in the pages of the newspaper I wrote for.
Camila was, and still is, a beautiful woman. Probably near my age, around 36 years old, building her way up in a male dominated field.
Once a month, she was responsible for holding a media interview, talking to dozens of journalists about the results of the ministry she worked for. It was mostly about economic issues: lots of numbers, lots of pressure, lots of questions.
In the newsroom, It was easy to know when we were going to publish an article about Camila. When that happened, it was common to hear guys’ random comments and jokes. “Nice, we have Camila’s photo today. The pages are more beautiful now.”
As sexist as this may sound and actually be, it kind of made sense. Young pretty women are not very frequent as news sources in the vast majority of newspapers (Megan Kamerick said that — watch her Ted Talk), especially when talking about economics.
Most of the people featured in the newspaper photos were middle-aged-white men: economists, politicians. Camila stood out. As a girl, it felt good to see her there.
So you might imagine how surprised I was when one day, out of the blue, an email from the ministry press announced that Camila was out. She was not going to hold the press conferences anymore, because she had left her government job—no further explanation.
Some days later, one of my fellow reporters — curious as we all were about the episode — cracked the mystery.
Camila, newly married as she was, was quitting her job to follow her husband, who was invited to work abroad, in an equally important and high-end position.
As the news broke among my group of colleagues, people started reacting to it. “Oh my, leaving her career for a man? That’s so unfeminist,” someone said. “She had such a future in the government, how could she quit?” said another. “If it was about my husband, I would be also following him right away. I would never let him move abroad by himself. That would be crazy.”
And all of a sudden, I was part of this small group of highly-educated people, debating Camila’s life choices as if they were totally our business.
Watching that scene, I tried to put myself in her shoes and figure out what I would do. Leave the job? Leave the husband? Long-distance marriage? That was a really tough choice.
And then it hit me: there was no right answer to that dilemma. Whatever Camila decided to do, I am sure she struggled to get there. Whatever she chose, she would have to compromise something. She would have to bet on what should be her priority.
And maybe — and here is when I want to stop and remind myself that I don’t really know Camila and that this whole empathy exercise might start sounding creepy — maybe she will never be entirely comfortable and 100% sure about any of the options.
Gender issues are being more discussed than ever all around the world, and that is truly wonderful. Feminism is not a “girls against boys” thing — stronger women transform the whole of society in so many ways, including by raising better men. Sorority — I love that word — with women helping and supporting each other through different journeys — that is the kind of thing that makes society better and stronger.
There is nothing more feminist than being free — free to be whoever you choose to be, and not feel guilty about it.
I am starting a journalistic project to give voice to all the different kinds of choices that make women as amazing as they are — and my main goal is to create a totally non-judgmental safe space to tell stories and debate public policies. It is called Cada Uma (Each one, in Portuguese, as I am a brazilian journalist).
If you want to keep up with the next steps, or talk to me about stories I should be telling, let me know.
Ligia Guimarães is a 2016 fellow at the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism, at Cuny. She is also a reporter at Valor Econômico, in Brazil, and worked for G1 and Gazeta Mercantil. She thinks brazilian women are amazing and we should be telling their stories.